A canoe differs from a kayak in that it is paddled with a single blade paddle.  There are one man (C1) and two person (C2) canoes available.

The two paddlers in a two person canoe (C2) must coordinate, and unless something interesting is happening, make their strokes simultaneously. Have a look at some brief tips:

Paddling the open Canoe

The two paddlers in a C2 must coordinate, and unless something interesting is happening, make their strokes simultaneously. Normally, the stern paddler is in command, using clear, concise instructions when necessary, and controlling the boat’s direction. The bow paddler does more than propel, however. He or she is there to ‘read’ the water and direct through awkward bits where necessary. (In the days of the voyageurs bow paddlers were paid more because of their skills and experience in reading the water.) Sometimes each paddler simply paddles his or her end through the obstructions.

Should paddlers sit or kneel on open canoes? For most paddling, sitting is more comfortable, but for paddling among the snags and other obstacles the kneeling position gives greater stability and power.

The main difficulty with single blade paddling is keeping straight. Ideally, the blade should be under the centre of the boat – that’s not possible so we have to make do with the blade as close to the hull as practicable.

The Canoe Paddle

The paddle has one blade, with a T or other grip at the other end. The most accurate means for determining the correct length is to sit or kneel as appropriate in the boat: with the top arm horizontal the blade should just be immersed. The top hand goes on the T grip, and the hands should be about elbow width apart.

The forward paddle stroke

Several points must be emphasised: power must come from body, not arm muscles strokes must be close to the hull, but parallel to the centreline strokes should be short-the first 15-20centimetres of a stroke provide the most power.

Key Points

  • Sit up, with slight forward lean.
  • Hands correctly positioned.
  • Rotate the torso and reach forward to place the blade squarely into the water.
  • The arms are extended but not straight
  • The top hand reaches right across the persons” body so that the shaft is held vertical.
  • Make the stroke using power from body muscles: rotate the torso bringing the paddle back in a relatively vertical aspect, NOT a push pull with lower hand pulling, upper hand pushing.
  • Slice the blade outwards (to the side) from the water as it passes the body.
  • Keep the blade low on recovery – skim the surface.


. Bending arms.

. Top hand not over the side.

. Using arm, not body muscles.

. High recovery.

. Paddling parallel to gunwale, not the centreline.

Trail Stroke

Also known, disparagingly, as the ‘Squaw’ or ‘Goon’ stroke. Essentially, the stroke is a Stern Rudder tacked on to the end of a forward stroke. It is not as efficient for driving the boat forward, but it does give better control, and should be used only when necessary. 

Key Points

. At the end of the forward stroke, allow the paddle to remain in the water and trail behind the paddler.  Rotate the blade so that it is vertical by rotating your top hand away from you.

. Make sure you continue to rotate your torso so that you are facing sideways – Do not reach behind you.

. Push the blade away from the canoe to turn toward it, pull it in toward the canoe to turn away from it. This should be done through torso rotation rather than through pushing and pulling the arms


. Elbow bent – keep the lower arm straight.

J Stroke

So called, because of the path followed by the blade. As the blade passes the thigh, rotate the wrists outwards so that the top thumb points forward. Pressure is on the drive face of the blade throughout. In the older style of J stroke the paddle did not touch the gunwale: the modern trend is to lever the paddle off the gunwale to make the pry action more powerful. There are other variations of the stroke.

Key Points

. Roll the wrists away from the body: thumb of top hand points downwards.

. Use the drive face for steering.


. Insufficient or incorrect wrist rotation.

. Elbow bent – keep the lower arm straight.


Marathon paddlers don’t bother with the J Stroke, but after a few strokes call ‘Hut!’ and swap sides

As you lift the blade from the water at the end of a stroke, release the top hand. Lift the paddle across the boat and put the top hand beneath the lower hand: the top is now the bottom. Slide the new top hand up the shaft to the handgrip, adjust the bottom hand and make the next stroke.

For touring, change sides every 10 – 15 minutes.

The solo canoe paddler must be able to J Stroke fluently, and should be proficient on both sides. Crosswind, some boats are easier to paddle on the upwind side, others on the downwind: experiment to find out.

Reverse Paddling

All reverse paddling strokes use the back of the blade and depend, as always, on body rotation for power. To begin, rotate the torso to the side of the stroke and with arms straight, put the paddle flat on the water. Keeping the arms straight, twist in the opposite direction, driving the blade towards the bow until it is near vertical. Lift the blade clear and wind up for the next stroke.

When paddling in reverse, the bow paddler will be controlling the direction. Reverse J strokes will be needed. Make the reverse stroke, then as the blade passes the hips, rotate it and pull the top hand across, levering off the gunwale.

Key Points

. Emphasise the trunk rotation

. Sit upright

. Keep the arms straight, paddle clear of body

. Look behind


. No torso twist

. Bent arms

. Not reaching right back

Emergency Stops

Use short, hard, quick reverse strokes.


Sweep strokes are made in a wide arc, with the paddle near horizontal, the arms straight, and with power from the body, but in the C2 are through 90° only.

Key Points

. Use maximum body rotation

. Use some fore and aft lean to extend rotation

. Working arm straight

. Paddle near horizontal

. Blade just immersed

. Push on the footrest

Draw Stroke

Draw strokes are used to move the canoe sideways or to turn it for rafting and approaching jetties and other landings.

Key Points

. Turn the body to ‘face’ the water.

. Shaft vertical, with top hand over the gunwale.

. Lower hand at full reach at right angles to canoe, blade immersed, parallel to hull.

. Pull the blade towards the boat, top hand steady.

. Keep the boat level.

. Before the blade touches the hull, lift the wrist, rotating the blade 90°.

. Slice the blade away for the next stroke.


. Top hand too low or close- lift it past the gunwale, and apply outward pressure during the stroke.

Pry Stroke

This stroke is equivalent to the Draw, but in the opposite direction. (Bow paddlers could use Cross Bow Draw in its place.)

Put the paddle vertically alongside, and hold the shaft against the gunwale. With the blade at 90° to the hull, push the top hand outwards so that the blade is under the hull. Rotate the wrists, and blade, and pull with the top hand. Feather the blade and push to swing the blade under the hull for the next stroke. The top hand does all the work, with the lower hand simply holding the shaft in position against the gunwale.

Key Points

. Blade must start under the hull

. Top hand must be right across

. Shaft held against gunwale

. Pull the top hand

. Feather to recover


. Letting shaft drift from gunwale

. Feathering the confusing

The movement is somewhat jerky. Make a series of short strokes rather than try one long stroke. Keep in time with the Draw at the other end. Be careful of this one when there are obstructions below the surface, especially when the boat is under way.

Experiment with combinations of Draw/Pry, Pry/Draw, Draw/Draw, Pry/Pry and part sweep strokes to move the boat sideways and/or rotate.

Bow Draw

The Bow Draw is used to turn the canoe, by drawing the bow to the paddling side. An initial sweep will often be done by the stern paddler.

Key Points

. Rotate torso to the side the stroke will be taken

. All of shaft should be on the paddling side, near vertical when viewed from ahead

. Top hand high, lower arm flexed

. Wrists flexed

. Drive face towards bow by unwinding the torso rotation


. Wrists not flexed (back of blade used)

. Letting blade be forced out of position

. Paddle not vertical

To turn the opposite way, there’s the Overside or Cross Bow Draw. Rotate the body and lift the blade across to the other side of the boat. The pressure is still on the drive face of the blade, and control is with blade position and wrist angle. If the blade strikes an obstruction let go immediately with the bottom hand.

Support Stroke

The solo paddler will normally be able to support on one side only, and will often need to decide before entering some areas of water on which side to paddle for better support. Paddlers in C2 will be able to support on both sides at once. Support strokes depend on body movement, not brute force applied to the paddle.

Key Points

. The back of the blade is used, shaft low, and over the side of the canoe.

. Use the blade to stop the tipping movement.

. Pull the boat back under your head by using a ‘hip flick’ to bring the boat in under you.

. Do not drive down on the blade, use your hip movements to bring the boat upright.

. Drop the wrists to slice the blade out.


Power in paddling does not come from the arms. It comes from trunk (torso) rotation matched with leg drive (or leg pressure), with the arms little more than linkage between the power source and the paddle. Control of the kayak does not come from brute force. It comes from the right stroke being applied in the right direction at the right time – it’s all done with coordination and balance.

The Kayak paddleAnchor

Kayak paddles have two blades, usually set at an angle to each other (called offset) between 60° and 85° apart. The following notes assume right handed paddlers and paddles.

The old method of determining the length is to stand the paddle vertically alongside you. If you can curl fingers over the top blade, the paddle is about the right length.  This method is not ideal and often results in paddles that are too long.

The correct length paddle for sea kayaks, flatwater competition boats, skis and similar (longer vessels with reasonable directional stability) will be such that the bottom blade is just fully submerged as it passes the paddlers” knee whilst the top hand is at around eye height.  This is a function of torso height and seat height and can be very different for two people of the same height with different body dimensions and different vessels.
Whitewater paddlers tend to use shorter paddles that fit in with their lower seating position and smaller boats.

The best starting point is to talk to your local AC National Training Provider or AC Instructor, Guide or Coach to get an approximate length to start with.

A paddle shaft that is too long creates too long a lever, excessively loading the muscles that are providing the force. The length of the paddle should be chosen carefully as a paddle that is too long can cause injuries and make it impossible for the paddler to perform the correct technique

Hand placement

Key points

With the paddle horizontally placed on the head and the elbows at right angles (the ‘surrender’ position), the hands will be at the correct spacing.

The hands must be symmetrically placed, with the same hand to blade distance on each side.

With the paddle held in front of the body, the right hand blade will be vertical, the left hand blade face up.

Keep the hands relaxed.

Hands tend to wander along and around the shaft, and the positions should be regularly checked.

Placing some electrical tape on the shaft just inside the hand positions can help to maintain your position.

Wrist Movement
Key points

The right hand remains fixed to the shaft: it should not be allowed to rotate (slip on the shaft) during normal strokes – however do not throttle the paddle, a light grip should be sufficient.

The right wrist is straight for a stroke on the right (i.e. when the hand is pulling).

The right wrist is rotated backwards (dropped) for a stroke on the left.

The paddle shaft rotates in the left hand.

  • Terminology 
    • The Bottom Hand is the one closest to the blade in the water
    • The Top Hand is the one closest to the blade out of the water
    • Often people put locators or indexes on the paddle shaft on the control side or on side of the shaft A locator (index) is a bulge on the front of the shaft, indicating the back of the blade.  The control side is the side which retains a firm grip on the shaft (does not rotate on the shaft) – in this case it is the right side.

Getting In and OutAnchor
You need to be able to board the kayak and launch, and also to land and exit the kayak safely and without damaging the boat. Particularly after a capsize you need to exit properly to avoid possible injury.

Key points

  • Put the boat into the water, close to shore, but afloat. If you want a stabiliser, put the paddle across the deck behind the cockpit with a blade on the bank.
  • Enter by sitting astride behind the cockpit, placing the feet in the cockpit, and sliding in, knees straight, weight on hands. Put as little weight as possible on the paddle.
  • Launch by pushing off with both hands.
  • Land as gently as possible to reduce stresses on the boat’s structure, and abrasion of gelcoat.
  • Exit with knees straight, weight on hands, sliding aft and out, using the paddle behind the cockpit if necessary for stability.

What do I do if I CapsizeAnchor?
Capsizes are inevitable in kayaking, and you must be able to exit from the boat in a calm and controlled manner. Fear of capsizing often prevents people progressing to more advanced techniques, so developing confidence early is important.

People instinctively lift their heads when suddenly immersed into water. In a kayak that can lead to bruises and scratches as people twist in the cockpit. The reflex must be overcome so that you leave the cockpit correctly, and only then move to the surface. It is normally easier to leave the cockpit of an inverted boat because the body does not have to be lifted. Eventually you will want to stay in your boat to roll, rather than bail out immediately you find yourself upside down.

Key points

  • Keep the head close to the foredeck. Exhale slowly to keep water out of the nasal passages. (Hum a tune.)
  • Spraycover off, knees straight, push with the hands and roll forward.
  • Keep hold of the boat by decklines, toggles or end loops, and the paddle.
  • If anything drifts away, let it. Keep hold of the boat. In any breeze it can drift faster than you can swim.
  • Follow your rescuer’s instructions, or swim the boat to the bank.

The Forward strokeAnchor
Good technique and injury prevention start with a correct seating position.  As with all seating, whether eating dinner, working at your desk or paddling, the back should be straight do not slouch.  A slight forward lean with the shoulders slightly in front of the pelvis is ideal.  Knees should be slightly bent (never straight) and there should be support for the feet.

Many boats have backrests, these are ideal for breaks but should not be used whilst paddling.

The starting point to a good stroke is this – all power should come from torso or trunk rotation.

The Catch

  • A stroke begins with the shoulders rotated to bring the bottom arm forward.
  • Bottom arm is extended but not straight
  • Top hand is around eye height, elbow bent, arm relaxed
  • The blade should enter the water at around the level of the feet and be quickly buried in a spearing motion

Catch or entry

The Drive Phase

The stroke is driven by torso rotation with both arms staying relatively fixed in place compared to a rotating torso.  The following photo shows the mid stroke position, note the following

  • Top hand is still at around eye height, elbow still bent, in the same relative position to the shoulders as at the catch.
  • Bottom arm is still extended but not straight, there is no attempt to drive the stroke through the biceps.

mid stroke

Leg Drive is a term most often used in relation to flatwater competition paddling, however all paddlers should have a good understanding of its principles.

Kayak paddling is often considered an upper body sport. However, paddlers should use their whole body, especially incorporating the strong muscles of their legs, hips and torso. The main task of the arms is to put the paddle in the water and take it out, not for providing the propulsive force.

Many boats (especially flatwater competition) have seat/footrest combinations that are designed to allow the paddler to rotate their pelvis/bottom on the seat as part of each stroke.

At the catch, the leg on the side of the next stroke, draws the hip forward so that the whole pulling side from pelvis to shoulder is fully rotated forward at the catch.

During the power phase, the stroke side leg straightens (the off-side leg drawing up) so that it drives the stroke through rotation of the whole trunk.  The power produced is applied to the boat through the feet.

This “leg drive” and torso coordination provides the most powerful dynamic movement that can move the boat forward.

NOTE: For boats that do not have ‘slippery seats’ or where you are tightly fitted into your seat, it is important to match pressure on the stroke side foot with the pressure on the bottom hand.  This matching of power through the whole body is important for the stabilisation of the trunk/lumbar spine/pelvis system and helps to prevent lower back injuries.

The Exit

The exit occurs just before the torso is fully rotated, when the blade is between mid thigh and pelvis.

  • Note (as shown in the picture below) at the end of the stroke the blade is off to the side of the boat.  The path of the blade in the water during the power phase of the stroke follows the wash line and is not parallel to the line of the boat.  Any attempt to pull the blade down the side of the boat results in the bottom arm bending this in turn results in a loss of available power.

  • Exit is take to the side – not under your arm.

  • The bottom elbow bends and the hand leads up to the side.

  • Top hand remains relatively fixed and the paddle pivots on this hand – a dropping top hand reduces power significantly during the stroke

beginning of the exit

Recovery Phase

The recovery phase is the name for the section of the paddle cycle between the exit and the next catch

  • The torso keeps rotating the same direction as the just finished stroke – this brings the new ‘drive side’ shoulder to its maximum forward position

  • the front hand (old top hand) stays high until the bottom hand is at the same height

  • Good rotation will result in the blade being almost parallel with the boat just prior to its descent for the next catch.

  • The paddle is then brought forward and down into the water in a spearing motion for the catch of the next stroke

near the beginning of the recovery phase

Beginning of the recovery phase

near the end of the recovery phase

End of the recovery phase

When paddling in side wind conditions, stability can be improved by lowering the height of the top hand HOWEVER the drive should still come entirely from trunk rotation and not from the arms.

Points to avoid (Bad technique)

Note the following points in the picture below

  • Paddler is leaning back – bad stress on lower back
  • Hands are low – blade inefficient in the water
  • Little or no rotation – stroke driven by arms

Bad technique 

Sweep StrokeAnchor
Sweep Strokes are used to turn the boat. The effectiveness of sweep strokes is governed by leverage and power. For the greatest leverage the blade must describe a wide arc, while power must come from body twist (trunk rotation as described above). To protect the shoulder joint when making reverse strokes, keep the elbow in front of the line of the shoulders (never reach behind you).

Sweep strokes incorporated into forward or reverse paddling are used to keep the kayak running straight.

Some Instructors prefer to start with sweep strokes so that students can develop some confidence in controlling their direction before moving to other strokes.

Forward Sweep
Key points

  • Rotate the torso fully for the set up
  • Blade is fully buried
  • Bottom arm is extended but NOT straightReaching right forward with a straight arm exposes the shoulder joint to potential damage
  • Top hand is in close to the body, low so that the paddle shaft just clears the deck.
  • Blade starts at bow, and is swept in a wide arc by the unwinding of the torso rotation 
  • The stroke finishes when rotation finishes – DO NOT try and pull the paddle right back with your arms, this can result in hyper-extension of the shoulder joint with possible damage resulting.  A long sweep is ideal, BUT this should come from torso rotation and not from arm movement.
  • Push on the footrest with the foot on the same side as the submerged blade.
  • Note it was traditional to teach this stroke with the person watching the blade to encourage torso rotation, this method is no longer recommended for two reasons paddlers should be looking where they are going when they paddle
    1. It is much harder to unlearn techniques than to learn them

Reverse Sweep
Key points

  • Rotate the torso fully for the set up
  • Blade is fully buried, stroke uses the back of the blade
  • Bottom arm is extended but NOT straightReaching behind you with a straight arm exposes the shoulder joint to potential damage
    • DO NOT reach back turn back
  • Top hand is in close to the body, low so that the paddle shaft just clears the deck.
  • Blade starts near the stern, and is swept in a wide arc by the unwinding of the torso rotation 
  • The stroke finishes when rotation finishes – DO NOT try and push the paddle forward with your arms it is ineffective and bad technique.  A long sweep is ideal, BUT this should come from torso rotation and not from arm movement.
  • Push on the footrest with the foot on the opposite side to the submerged blade.
  • Note it was traditional to teach this stroke with the person watching the blade to encourage torso rotation, this method is no longer recommended for two reasons paddlers should be looking where they are going when they paddle
    1. It is much harder to unlearn techniques than to learn them

Reverse Paddling
There will be times when you will need to paddle in reverse under full control.

Key points

  • Do not lean back for this stroke
  • Rotate the body so that the shoulder on the side of the stroke is right back
  • Paddle is parallel to the boat with the blade flat on the water, back down
  • Initially set the blade by pushing down with the bottom hand and raising the top hand to about eye height – this will set the blade at about 45 degrees and fully buried
  • Now unwind the torso, driving the stroke in close to the boatBlade stays close to the line of the boat
    • Shaft is kept close to vertical
    • Arms maintain the position of the blade rather than driving it
  • The stroke finishes and the blade begins its exit when the paddle shaft is vertical, the exit transfers neatly into the setup for the next stroke.
  • Look behind you on the same side every second stroke to avoid disorientation.

Emergency StopsAnchor
You need to be able to stop the kayak in a controlled manner, whether paddling forward or reverse.

Key points


  • Short reverse strokes, blade close to hull, shaft vertical.
  • Strokes on alternate sides to keep straight.


  • Short forward strokes, on alternate sides.

Stern RudderAnchor
Stern rudder strokes allow you to guide a kayak through obstacles, can be used whilst surfing or sailing, or as an aid to controlling the kayak downwind, with the ruddering incorporated into the forward paddle cycle.

Key points

  • Rotate the torso fully for the set up
  • Paddle is parallel to the boat
  • Blade is buried and vertical
  • Bottom arm is extended but NOT straightReaching behind you with a straight arm exposes the shoulder joint to potential damage
    • DO NOT reach back turn back
  • Top hand is low and over the side of the boat
  • Do not lean back as this puts bad stress on your lower back and reduces your ability to stabilise the boat.
  • Two ways (often combined) to control direction:push the blade away from the stern to turn towards the paddle side or pull it towards the stern to turn the other way
    • roll the wrist outwards to turn to the paddle side, inwards to turn away.
  • If you start to lose control in a broach, do not try and fight it by extending your shoulders or leaning back, tuck forward and prepare for a capsize or Support stroke (brace) as required

Body rotated towards paddle Paddle alongside hull. blade well aft Control with wrist roll or tillering with shaft Left Straight Right

Draw StrokeAnchor
Draw strokes are used to move the kayak sideways in a controlled manner for rafting and approaching jetties and other landings.

Key points

  • Rotate the torso to ‘face’ the direction you want to go.
  • Keep the shaft vertical with top hand at forehead height and ahead of the face.Think of it as framing the face
    • If you can look up and read your watch it is about right
  • Bottom hand extends (out but not straight) at right angles to kayak level with the hips, blade immersed, parallel to hull.
  • Pull the blade towards the hips, top hand remains relatively fixed.
  • Keep the boat level – do not lean toward the blade.
  • Before the blade touches the hull, rotate the blade 90° then slice it back out to the start position.

draw stroke

The sculling draw as shown below is usually taught after the basic draw is mastered.  It is applicable to sea conditions, where the traditional slalom draw (above) can make the paddler unstable due to the effects of wind and waves from the side.

  • Torso is  rotated to face the direction of travel

  • Top hand is lowered to around chin height

  • Bottom arm is extended but not straight

  • The blade is moved in a  figure of 8 with the forward face (as the blade moves) turned slightly away from parallel to the boat

  • Do not lean on the blade at this stage


    • Bottom arm should always be slightly bend

    • Bottom arm elbow should be in front of the line of the shoulders

    • Top hand should never be higher than the head – NEVER reach behind your head

    • Top arm should be bent with the top hand in close to the body

    • Sculls should be small and controlled

sculling draw

Low Support (or low brace) StrokeAnchor
Support strokes are used to prevent capsizes. Although the paddle is used, the righting action comes from the hips. The description here is for the Low Support (or low brace) stroke.

This stroke is normally taught from a stationary position with the paddler producing the lean themselves and then correcting the lean.  People are also often taught to practice this using a J lean where the body remains vertical and the boat is ‘edged’ or tipped under the person – in this way your body becomes a J – hence the name. Using a J lean rarely commits the person to the support and is not consistent with a ‘real’ capsizing situation.

Paddlers should have two different (but interacting skills)

  1. The ability to ‘sit their boats up’.  This is the ability to maintain a vertical torso above a moving boat and use slight movement of the hips to maintain stability

  2. Bracing or support strokes being the ability to use a combination of paddle and body movements to bring the boat back upright after it has passed the point where stability can be maintained simply with 1. above.

Number 1 is best learned in an area of chop let the boat sit side on to the waves and use your hips to maintain your torso above the boat and maintain stability.  The focus is on allowing the boat to move under you rather than pushing the boat around.  The less stable the boat, the easier and better the skill will be learned.

In the real world you will most probably be moving at the time that you need a low support and the stroke will be a response to the actions of wind, waves or a ‘friendly’ paddler.  To learn a reliable brace, allow the boat to tip enough that it is unstable and then bring it back upright as follows.

Key points of the Low Support

  • The paddle is most efficient when held at right angles to the boat
  • Protection of the elbow, wrist and shoulder should be paramountPaddle shaft should be kept in close to the body
    • The arm on the stroke side should rise up from the shaft in the monkey position wrist, elbow and shoulder in the same plane as the paddle shaft
  • The back of the blade is used, shaft horizontal
  • As the boat begins to tip, the back of the paddle blade is brought to bear at the surface of the water – do not practice slapping the water.  This action should momentarily arrest the tipping motion
  • Now draw your hip in toward the paddle blade (in other words bring your boat in under your head.
  • Use the blade for support rather than driving down on it.
  • Once stable, drop (rotate down) the control wrist and slice the blade out.

AC acknowledge the advice and resources of the following people

  • AC Flatwater Level 1 Coaching Manual, Lynda Lehmann
  • CKEA Flatwater Instructor (level 1) training resources
  • BCU Canoe and Kayak Handbook
  • Every Crushing Stroke, Scott Shipley
  • Reference has been made to the resources produced by Eric Jackson, Kent Ford and Nigel Foster
  • Chad Meek
  • Therese Powell
  • Peter Carter
  • Jade South
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As well as learning to use the paddling strokes there are several other useful techniques, such as rafting up , the ferry glide, and rescues .

Rafting up

There are times when paddlers want to be together: for a snack, to sort out a problem, for mutual reassurance, to decide where to go next, to watch the Instructor.  A raft is the way to do it. Each paddler holds the boats alongside, and paddles are usually placed across the raft, in front of the paddlers. Paddlers at the ends can paddle with one arm to keep the raft pointing in a chosen direction, or even to make very slow progress. To join a raft, plan your approach so that you arrive alongside without colliding, and without having to draw in from some distance. To leave, a couple of draw strokes, then paddle away. Two boats coming together can simply paddle a converging course: stop paddling when you are close enough to coast together. On flat water your raft can have as many boats as you can find. Once conditions become choppy, holding a raft together can be arm-wrenching, and there is the potential to crush hands as the boats bang together. In heavy seas, two boats is the limit.

Ferry Glide

A Ferry Glide is a way to cross a flowing stream, without moving up or down-stream, as when, for instance, you want to avoid some obstacle. Paddle forward (or backward as appropriate) at an angle to the current, and adjust your speed so that you move across, and not forward or back. The angles will depend on the speed of the current and your own speed. On a fast current start with a small angle, and make sure you are leaning downstream. (Yes, vector addition. The same principles apply when navigating on the sea (tides and currents) or in the air (wind).)


By ‘rescue’ we mean the emptying of a kayak or canoe and the return of the paddler/s to the cockpit after a capsize. Capsises happen when paddlers are in conditions beyond what they can normally handle, either because they are trying something new, or because wind and wave have risen. The rescue must be achieved in the conditions that caused the capsize, and the rescue will also put the paddler back into the conditions that led to the problem in the first place. (It may be time to head for home.) The more buoyancy in the boat, the easier it will be to rescue-add more buoyancy to your boat. The first priority in all rescues is the capsized victim. Make sure the person is calm and relaxed, and ignore any floating gear until later.
Types of Rescues: X Rescue, Sea Kayak Rescue, Flip and Pump Rescue, Wedge Rescue and Buddy Rescue

X Rescue

The X Rescue is the most versatile method, and can be used on most boats from BATs to 6 metre open canoes. (Sea kayaks do need something a little different.)

Key Points

After the Capsize: Victim

  • Leave the boat inverted. (Turn it up and you put more water in.)
  • Hold it by the bow (preferably) in one hand, with the paddle in the other.
  • Ignore anything floating away-let go of your boat and it can drift faster than you can swim.
  • Watch for your rescuer.

Approach: Rescuer

  • Put your paddle into its leash.
  • Talk to the victim, giving clear, concise instructions.
  • Plan your approach to pick up the victim and the boat in one move.
  • Have the victim transfer to your bow.
  • Put your paddle aside.


  • Place your nearer hand on the upturned hull.
  • With the other, grab the toggle or end loop.
  • Lean on the boat, then push away to give some impetus for the lift.
  • Use the decklines (if present) to haul the boat across. Be quick at this stage to avoid the stern filling.
  • Grab the cockpit rim as soon as you can reach it.


  • With both hands grasping the cockpit rim, drag the boat to and fro to drain it. Have the nearer side slightly higher so that it clears your own cockpit rim.
  • Don’t try to remove every last drop -you won’t be able to and will waste time if you try.
  • Flip the boat upright on your deck


  • Put the boat back into the water.

What if…

If the boat is waterlogged (because of insufficient buoyancy), you may find it difficult to handle. Let the victim do some work.

  • The victim reaches across the rescuer’s deck to grasp the toggle or end loop of the capsized boat.
  • Drag it across the deck.
  • With feet on the gunwale, keep pulling until the cockpit is over the rescuer’s deck.
  • Pull downwards to begin draining.
  • The rescuer must hold the boat by the cockpit rim as usual.
  • The victim must stay in contact at all times, and return to the rescuer’s bow.


There are alternative methods, depending on preferences and conditions, with all methods requiring a stable raft. Head first is easy, done the right way. Some people prefer to come over the rescuer’s boat. Feet first does not require the victim to move around the raft.


  • Lean hard on the victim’s boat, with the peak of the deck in your armpit.
  • That hand can hold the victim’s paddle. Hold the cockpit rim with your other hand, ready to assist the victim if necessary.

Head First

  • Move around the raft to the cockpit.
  • Put one hand each side of the cockpit rim.
  • Kick the feet to the surface.
  • Make a breaststroke kick and pull with the arms to come across the deck. (1)
  • Keep moving, face down, until the feet are in the cockpit.
  • Roll face up, and wriggle forward until over the seat.
  • Feet at the surface One hand each side Rescuer’s weight on victim’s boat Feet into cockpit Roll face up, wriggle forward

Feet First

  • Put an arm over each boat.
  • Lie back between the boats to bring the feet to the surface.
  • Lift the feet into the cockpit.
  • Lift up onto the deck – keep lying back.
  • Wriggle forward until over the seat.
  • Sit up.
  • Sort things out and paddle away.
  • One arm on each boat Lift feet into cockpit Next stage as 3 above

Sea Kayak rescues

Sea kayaks operate in an environment where rescues must be quick and easy: after all, the paddlers cannot turn left, paddle a few strokes and be on the bank. The boats are therefore designed to withstand flooding of the cockpit, and should be equipped with pumps, either foot or electric, so that the kayaker can paddle and pump at the same time. The boats also have decklines so that they can be grabbed anywhere along their length.

General points

After the Capsize: Victim

  • Roll the sea kayak upright. (That’s the opposite of what you would do with other kayaks.)
  • Hold it by the bow (preferably) in one hand, with the paddle in the other.
  • Ignore anything floating away-let go of your boat and it can drift faster than you can swim.
  • Watch for your rescuer.

Approach: Rescuer

  • Put your paddle into its leash.
  • Talk to the victim, giving clear, concise instructions.
  • Plan your approach to pick up the victim and the boat in one move.
  • Have the victim transfer to your bow (Wedge Rescue) or into position for re-entry (Flip and Pump).
  • Put your paddle aside.
  • Flip and Pump Rescue
  • The quickest and easiest rescue, which makes it useful if you need to do a rescue in an awkward spot, perhaps under a cliff. Simply support the boat for re-entry. When the paddler has reboarded, the pump will do the work.

Wedge Rescue

This is for when you want to empty the kayak before the paddler re-enters. It works only with boats with minimum volume cockpits, and can be hard on spray covers.

Key Points


  • Grab the bow of the boat by the decklines, with an angle between the boats of 45°-60°.
  • Pull. The bow will come up and across in front of you.
  • Keep pulling until the cockpit is clear of the water.
  • Push the boat forward, away from you along the deck, clear of the cockpit, then 45°-60° roll it towards you and watch the water draining. (Don’t try to remove every last drop -you won’t be able to and will waste time if you try.)


Roll the boat upright and slide it back into the water.


As with everything else, you need practice at this. A good idea is to practise a few rescues every time you go out, so that you can reliably complete rescues in well under two minutes. Make sure that your own boat, and the boats of your group, are adequately equipped with buoyancy, decklines, and so on.

Canoeing and kayaking have their own language, much of it from boating in gene general, some of it quite specific.